Review: West Side Story at North Shore Music Theatre

Angelica Potter

  • Massachusetts Critic

West Side Story was originally conceived, directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins for the Broadway stage back in 1958. It is a modernized version of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet with book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. 

This production is led by husband and wife director and choreographer team Bob Richard and Diane Laurenson. Music director Milton Granger conducts the wonderful sixteen member orchestra, whose beautiful playing of the well-known score is truly a highlight of this production. 

Robbins’ original choreography was adequately performed by the cast, but often seemed cramped on the circular stage. The formation and spacing adjustments may have been to blame when it came to the synchronization and timing of some of the numbers; notably the dance-break in “Cool”.  However, the dancers’ skill and their high energy made “Dance at the Gym” and “America” instant audience favorites. “America” was fiercely led by Anita, played by Michelle Alves, who shined not only as a strong dancer, but vocalist throughout the production.
Tony, played by Bronson Norris Murphy, executed smooth and controlled vocals in both “Something’s Coming” and “Maria”; though, at times, he was drowned out by the orchestra. Murphy’s portrayal of Tony came across as low key and passive which made it difficult to believe that Tony was ever the leader of the Jets gang. Evy Ortiz as Maria, however, was youthfully in love and completely believable. Her heartbreak and anger in the finale was genuine and palpable, pulling on the heartstrings of the audience. Their duets: “Tonight”, “One Hand, One Heart”, and “Somewhere Ballet”, were sweetly and beautifully sung by the pair whose classically trained voices were perfectly matched and a delight to listen to. 

The most emotionally driven performance was the duet between Anita (Alves) and Maria (Ortiz) in act two: “A Boy Like That/I Have a Love”. The pair was connected and wore their hearts on their sleeves in this riveting and powerful number. Interestingly, while the Jets delivered concrete vocals in the “Jet Song”, “Cool” and “Gee, Officer Krupke”, the humorous lyrics in the later failed to land with the audience. NSMT audience favorite, David Coffee, delivered a notable performance as Doc, an older shopkeeper who was often trying to talk sense to the younger generation. 

The finale is one of the most tense and emotionally powerful scenes in the show, however at this performance, the audience seemed caught off guard and nervously laughed when the gun was shot, immediately breaking the tense mood and causing the dramatic ending to fall flat. One has to wonder if there was a “gunshot notification” posted on the theatre doors that the entire audience missed. This production lacked character and emotional depth; the racial strife and intolerance, at the core of the story, was not believably conveyed. The audience seemed unengaged at times as their reaction to the action on stage was noticeably minimal. ©   

West Side Story runs about 2 hours and 20 minutes including intermission and plays Tuesdays-Sundays through November 20th. Tickets range from $54-$79 with group rates available for groups 10 or more. The show contains violence and adult language; it may not be suitable for all audiences. For tickets or more information visit , call 978-232-7200 or visit the box office in person at 62 Dunham Rd. Beverly, MA. 


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